A friend of mine in the trenches, with a newborn and a two-year-old, recently shared this about motherhood, “I read somewhere…that it is not that it will get easier, but that you will get stronger.” 

How right she is. My babies are seven and nine, and I’m still exhausted at the end of every day. I know more than I ever thought possible about certain things, yet I face new challenges daily on this journey.

I picture athletes as they go from a beginner to part of a team. They exercise, they practice, calories burn, fat drips off or turns to muscle. They sculpt their bodies inside and out. There are changes to accommodate the running, the swimming, the skating, the weight lifting, the conditioning of all kinds.

They practice and practice until they are like Ralph Maccio in The Karate Kid, all the while their physical body is getting stronger, so too is a mentor training their minds, their emotions, their confidence.

They have specific diets and required hours of sleep, massage and physical therapists and someone to clean their stinky uniforms and gear when they’re done. (Often this person cleaning the uniforms is called “Mom.”)

They never make it to professional status, or world championship teams or Olympics until they have dedicated years to the practice.

Being a mother is like this, except for one important distinction– we must learn and strengthen our bodies and minds at the same time as we mother. It’s like being tossed into the pool without knowing how to swim, or rolled out onto the soccer field with no actual running experience, let alone running down a field while simultaneously foot-juggling a ball and facing down a team of opponents. Imagine a quarterback expected to play without knowing how to pass a ball.

Before I became a mother, I worked with kids for nearly half of my life, and no amount of kid experience helped me as a mother. Except for maybe knowing how to change a diaper and cradle an infant’s head, and trust me, moms can do those two things with their eyes closed while hanging upside down from the monkey bars, three other children clinging to them, and make dinner at the same time. No joke.

The truth is, being a mom is the hardest job I’ve ever had. And it’s hard daily. We are learning each new skill, honing new muscles, training our brains to act, our emotions to expand, daily. While taking care of our children.

There is no three-hour a day practice for months with a coach to learn how to breastfeed every two hours with mastitis or thrush or just plain old exhaustion. Or a training session for when your milk runs out, or when you decide, for the benefit of all involved, including your own mental health, that it’s time to switch to formula.

There’s no class to take to understand your emotions leaking out of your body and spilling into a puddle on the floor around you. For when Post-Partum Depression has you in its grip and you still have to hold your child and sing her to sleep because that’s the only thing that works at 3am.

There’s certainly no Jedi training for how to watch your child sit alone on the playground, his inability to interact with other children glaringly obvious. Or how to keep your emotions in check while your child has a seizure.

There’s no Yoda serene enough to guide you through the journey of losing a child because her precious soul went to Heaven too, too early.

There’s no textbook on how to deal with the “paparazzi” of every person critiquing your parenting.

There’s no separation between practice and game day, or fancy team dinner before the championships, with instructions from the coach to get a good night’s sleep and rest up before the game. Because every day is game day. (And what’s a good night’s sleep anyway?)

Moms train their bodies to adapt in so many ways: pregnancy, infertility, miscarriage, birth, adoption. Then comes feeding a baby through that villain known as sleep debt. Next, it’s 10,000 questions for why the sky is blue, or how to act when your child doesn’t speak at all. Our bodies strengthen, our emotions grow, our minds get challenged every day.

Even on days when we fail, or crumple, or need someone else to take over for a while so we can heal and rest. Even then.

While being a mom is hard, it’s also so outrageously awesome. Even through the exhaustion, even through the 10,000 questions, even when my kids are driving me crazy, even on days when I hate being a mom because the guilt of my mistakes eats at me.

Even then I look at my son and think, “GOD YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL!! You gorgeous, creative soul.” And I listen to my daughter talk about hydroponics in space and think, “How in the world did you get to be so amazingly smart and sensitive to the ways of the world? YOU ARE FREAKING INCREDIBLE!!”

Because, even our hearts expand and adapt daily, that necessary muscle of life and love. Beat by beat. Even when we sneak five minutes to ourselves and cry alone in the shower, our hearts are expanding at the exhaustion and beauty and madness of it all. Our hearts adapt to hold so much love.

The truth is, it never gets easier. It gets different. I know this isn’t news to mamas out there. We get it. We show up for game day every day, through the fatigue, the uncertainty, the guilt, the chores, the wonder, the love, the hope, the despair, through the times we ask for help, through the tears and the laughter and every mundane minute in-between. And over every hurdle, through every sleepless night, through the worry and crazy beauty of it all, we get stronger.

It doesn’t get easier. The playbook changes, we master one thing while moving onto another challenge to solve, new emotions to understand. But through it all we gain strength to weather any storm. And I hope every mama out there knows that. I hope every mama out there can see she’s not alone. I hope every mama knows how strong she is.

Here are a few lovely suggestions, gathered from some awesome moms I know, for how to help a new mom you may know, whether it’s her first baby or her fifth!

  1. Ask her if she wants visitors. Offer to hold her newborn so she can nap. Let her know you’re there for her.
  2. Send her a care package with goodies for everyone, some treats for the older kids, gift cards, nursing pads, snacks, coffee, PAPER PLATES, an awesome water bottle for her (nursing makes you parched!).
  3. Give her a gift card for local restaurants or a meal delivery service. Food is so important for her and her family, and knowing she doesn’t have to cook is priceless!
  4. Something special just for her, maybe a new, soft throw blanket, a precious bead for strength, a pretty new coffee mug.
  5. As a mom, it can be difficult to believe in our strength. Check in with her. Tell her how amazing she is!

Sara Ohlin

Puget Sound based writer, Sara Ohlin is a mom, wannabe photographer, obsessive reader, ridiculous foodie, and the author of the upcoming contemporary romance novels, Handling the Rancher and Salvaging Love. You can find her essays at Anderbo.com, Feminine Collective, Mothers Always Write, Her View from Home, and in anthologies such as Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak about Healthcare in America, and Take Care: Tales, Tips, & Love from Women Caregivers. Find her at www.saraohlin.com